This passage is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner

Doctor Fox looked at Elizabeth as he chewed, and nodded and smiled. She must be nearly forty now, like Dex. Thank God they were never foolish enough to marry, though no doubt Dexter had poked her when they were students. He felt like laughing. She was quite plainly not the marrying kind. Children out of the question. He saw her wide open eyes, her nervous nostrils, her desire to impress, something fancy and successful about her, and yet he felt sure she was the kind of woman who’d throw round terms like the orthodox feminist position. He washed down the crumbs with a swig of coffee and waited for her to speak. He guessed what she would say. She did. ‘Isn’t Mrs Fox here?’

How sociable. He remembered her at nineteen. She made him an omelette for lunch when his wife was out, a clumsy act of duty, and called him to come and eat it, but he was upstairs nutting out a score and neither answered nor came till the food was cold and flat. She glowered at him from the scullery. The young women liked his wife more than they did him.

‘No. My wife’s at home. And that’s where I’m going.’

His cultivated vowels: mai waife. She longed to whip the serviette out of his collar.

Does "the kind of woman who’d throw round terms like the orthodox feminist position." means "the kind of woman who speak like feminist and use words like theorthodox feminist position. "?

Is "the orthodox feminist position" the name of group of feminists?

Am I right in understanding the other part in bold?

  1. Does "a clumsy act of duty" mean "she had cooked a food without skill and the food was not cooked well"?

  2. Does "nutting out a score" mean "maybe he was thinking to find a solution to get rid of her"?

Dose "score" refer to music?

nut something out is an ​Australian English, New Zealand English, informal verb and mean "to calculate something or find the answer to something."

  1. Does "cultivated vowels" mean "his educated way of speaking in pronouncing vowel letters"

1 Answer 1


The phrase "the kind of woman who’d throw round terms like the orthodox feminist position" does not imply that the woman in question is a feminist, or talks like a feminist, but simply that she uses words such as "the orthodox feminist position". This is a fancy, academic-sounding term. Since the woman has a "desire to impress" and be "fancy and successful", it makes sense that she'd use fancy terms in her conversation.

Talking about "the orthodox feminist position" is also a way to indicate that one is keeping up with current events. In the same way that using technical scientific terms would mark me as part of the scientific community, her use of this term is an attempt to mark herself as part of learnéd high society.

As for what "orthodox feminist position" means, it is simply a position/stance taken by a group identified as "orthodox feminists". I see two possibilities. The first is Orthodox feminism, a feminist movement within Orthodox Judaism. The other, since "orthodox" isn't capitalized, is using "orthodox" as an antonym to "radical", so a more generally accepted and less society-shaking form of feminism.

A "clumsy act of duty" is one that is done awkwardly ("clumsily") out of a sense of obligation ("duty"). She probably felt a "duty" to make food as that is a traditional feminine thing to do, cook and care for men. A woman trying to fit into society would fell a sense of "duty" to fulfil this feminine role. This act could also be "clumsy" because she was simply unaccustomed to cooking for others, so she felt awkward doing it.

"Nut out" is indeed the Australian idiom (Helen Garner is Australian) meaning

To find a solution for, to work out the finer details, especially in a group discussion.

I don't see anything in the passage to indicate that the man was with a group, but the idiom would also apply to him working hard to figure out the precise details of a "score". I'm not sure which definition of "score" is being used - it could be a record (a tally of money owed, e.g.), sports scores, or a musical score. Nevertheless, the man was "nutting out", or working on, finding a solution or figuring out the finer details.

"Cultivated vowels" does indeed mean "an educated way of pronouncing vowels".

  • Comments about the "cultivated vowels" part of the question have been moved to chat; they're not relevant to this answer any more, but could potentially be used by someone else to answer that part of the question.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 16:40
  • In addition to the previous answer, it would be clearer to say "throw AROUND terms" instead of "throw ROUND terms", since the intended conversational metaphor is of tossing things in several directions, not throwing things that are round. One could use 'round in place of around, with an apostrophe to indicate a slang contraction: (throw 'round terms), but there isn't a good reason to do that here. Commented Jun 4, 2021 at 17:36
  • I read "nut out a score" as a slang reference to male orgasm and sexual conquest, cued by other indicators that he regards women primarily as potential mates and sex partners, and by what may be a double entendre in "came." It sounds like he was upstairs having sex while this young woman made his dinner. It would stand to reason that women familiar with both he and his wife would certainly prefer her company, because they sense his selfish, instrumental attitude towards women.
    – Tom
    Commented Jun 8 at 4:27

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